DiVinci's Vitruvian Man standing with arms and legs spread within a circle

Wellness and Human-Centric Lighting Design

DiVinci's Vitruvian Man standing with arms and legs spread within a circle
It’s not enough to just think about the visual aesthetics of a lighting design project. Today, architects and designers are reevaluating the interaction between buildings and people in terms of the physical and mental wellbeing of inhabitants.

Most people are familiar with DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man, which shows a man inscribed within a circle and a square. It depicts the proportions of the human body as described by the Roman architect Vitruvius in the third volume of his De Architectura. Over 400 years later, Le Corbusier would develop a Modulor system, which (like DaVinci’s drawing) directly equated human proportion to the built environment – placing humanity at the center of architectural design.

While scale and ratio are still fundamental attributes of the built environment, the relationship between occupant and enclosure has become much more nuanced. Today, architects and designers are reevaluating the interaction between buildings and people in terms of the physical and mental wellbeing of inhabitants. To this end, organizations like WELL and Fitwel have established standards for wellness, and helped to develop ways of monitoring and measuring well-being in relation to habitation over time.

Wellness as an Architectural Priority

Emphasizing the health and wellbeing of occupants requires a reorientation of architectural thinking to include building technologies and services as instrumental aspects of design. This shift parallels a similar one to address environmental excellence pioneered by organizations, like LEED, which focuses on building efficiency and reducing the overall carbon footprint of the built environment. Programs like LEED benefit from clear cost/benefit data that shows how increased efficiency lowers operation and maintenance costs, while supporting the moral imperative of sustainability.

Compared to environmental excellence (like LEED), wellness certification is a fairly recent criterion. Part of the slowness in adopting wellness standards can be attributed to a historical lack of metrics on the benefits of wellness-based design. Over the past decade, a large body of evidence has been developed showing that increased focus on air and light quality, along with attention to program, have significant benefits in terms of promoting productivity, reducing time-off related to illness, improving contentment, and lowering rates of attrition.

Focusing on the health and wellbeing of people has direct and pronounced positive financial impact, not only for the corporations that adopt wellness standards in the workplace, but also for real estate developers interested in maintaining long-term tenants. More importantly, it supports shifts in contemporary lifestyles that emphasize physical and mental fitness, as well as environmental conscientiousness, as is shown in the growth of the consumer wellness industry and the organic food movement.

Over the course of the last six months, and largely in response to the ongoing health crisis, the wellness building industry has more than doubled in total square footage from approximately 600 million sq ft to over 1.5 billion sq ft. Wellness standards are currently being adjusted and new technologies advanced to reduce the potential spread of disease, including the introduction of more stringent air-filtering parameters, the use of UV radiation to sanitize interior environments and the reorganizing of how people exist in a space to ensure appropriate distance.

Lighting is a Key Factor in Architectural Wellness

Under the dual factors of a changing lifestyle culture and an on-going response to global pandemic, wellness standards for the built environment are expected to continue expanding. Even LEED and other environmentally focused initiatives have begun adopting wellness standards to supplement their work in sustainability. One of the technologies specifically targeted for improvement in relation to promoting both sustainability and wellness is lighting.

The emergence of new LED sources that allow inhabitants to adjust color temperature (electromagnetic wavelength propagation) and intensity, either manually or by means of preset scenes, has created new opportunities for designers to build wellness into the technological infrastructure of buildings.

These technologies support design that focuses on the stimulation or suppression of melatonin production as a means of regulating circadian rhythms and ensuring that people sustain healthy sleep cycles. This is incredibly important, especially in environments with limited access to daylight, since reduced or interrupted sleep patterns can result in significant mental and physical health issues.

Color temperature correction throughout the day not only improves sleep, but can also improve the mental and emotional sensibility of a space. In residential applications, similar positive effects can be achieved by ensuring appropriate color temperature and intensity throughout the day and into the evening. Improved physical, mental, and emotional health can also lead to improvements in the overall sociological environment, with communities reaping the benefits of intelligent building design.

There are a number of excellent resources for you to learn more about designing for health and wellness, and to find specific parameters related to how color temperature and light intensity affect human well-being.

Here are some resources for further reading:

Resources for Further Reading

WELL: https://www.wellcertified.com/

Fitwel: https://fitwel.org/

Illuminating Engineering Society: https://www.ies.org (check your local chapter for webinars, and review the newly released Handbook)

Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute Circadian Stimulation Calculator: https://www.lrc.rpi.edu/cscalculator/